How Early Stardom in a Boy Band Led César Abreu to a Career in Ballet and Beyond
Dancers who somehow seem to do it all are increasingly common in our culture of hustle. But it’s rare that their list includes touring the world in a boy band, dancing with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, musical theater, choreographing, producing, and giving back through dance. César Abreu’s career has been like no other, and, in some ways, he’s just getting started.
Abreu was born and raised in Puerto Rico, where he started acting in local television shows when he was 7 years old. In 1990, at age 12, he was recruited to join Menudo, the iconic Latino pop music band and one of the most successful boy bands of all time. His one-year adventure performing around the world was not only a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it was how he found dance.
“The dance routines, that was new to me,” says Abreu, who had no dance training when he joined Menudo. “I loved it—the intensity, the expression. It was like putting a jigsaw puzzle together with my body.”
While he knew he had the passion, he needed real training. “I didn’t quite have two left feet, but, well, you get it,” he says with a laugh.
He decided to pursue a career in dance and relocated to Florida to attend Dillard High School of the Arts in Fort Lauderdale, going on to earn a bachelor’s degree in dance education from the University of the Arts and a master’s of fine arts in dance from New York University on full scholarship.
His investment in training paid off, landing the role of Mungojerrie in the 25th-anniversary international tour of Cats. But after a year on the road, he found his home—the Metropolitan Opera. Abreu was cast in the ballet company of his first Met opera, The First Emperor, in 2006, and continued dancing there for 16 years.
“The Met is the pinnacle of everything. It has the best of the best actors, singers, designers, directors. I always wanted to embrace all of those different art forms,” says Abreu. “To perform on the most coveted stage in the world, it was really a dream come true.”
One of his favorite productions was Turandot, not only because of the grandiosity that he describes as “luscious and luxurious,” but the challenging dancing.
“The choreography had a lot of improv. That was new for me and it was very demanding physically. I liked being pushed,” he says.
The Met provided other opportunities to keep improving his technique, namely daily classes with teachers such as Gelsey Kirkland, a real “pinch-me” moment for Abreu.
He’s also working on a film he choreographed for seven male dancers based on his experience of coming out in Puerto Rico, a process he describes as quite tough but that taught him a lot about empathy and finding hope.
This attitude of caring is what inspired him to dance and choreograph for Broadway Bares, the annual fundraiser for Broadway Cares, for 15 years. Abreu personally raised thousands of dollars through his participation. He also led an effort at the Met to send care packages to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
In a full-circle moment for Abreu, he can be seen in the recent HBO docuseries Menudo: Forever Young, where he recounts his experience with the band.
Reflecting on his arc from screaming fans to fine art and all the hard work in between, Abreu says his success was all about humility, staying nimble, and keeping the channel open to all possibilities.
“I said yes to everything,” he says. “There are so many things I’ve done that I never thought I would have the opportunity to do. Who knows what the future holds?”